Let's say that some Oriental emperor had decreed that he should move his palatial residence from China to Everest. Specifically, he wanted Mount Everest to be his palace, which means hollowing the entirety of the mountain, pretty much a human equivalent to Erebor.

Let me clarify on where I'm going with that question--the emperor would not hear any complaints regarding the process--how much time and manpower it'd take to hollow out a five-and-a-half-mile tall mountain, how to deal with lower temperature, thinner air and higher UV radiation.

This question would, instead, focus on one other problem, one that wouldn't be recognized until the 1960s--Everest is an active mountain, prone to earthquakes, landslides and avalanches. If you hollow out a tectonically active mountain, would that worsen the earthquakes, landslides and avalanches that we'd associate with such peaks?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't get how one would not notice earthquakes, landslides and avalanches until the 1960s. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 1 '19 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ Any query that asks "would it be wise" is by definition broad and opinion based. Can you edit the title to reflect your actual question about earthquakes, etc.? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 1 '19 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ Note that if you use the reality-check tag you are explicitly inviting people to make any objections they like, including what you say the Emperor would not hear. People are free to frame challenge your question and it's logical basis with that tag. $\endgroup$
    – StephenG
    May 1 '19 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ You are either grossly overestimating the ability of humans to move rocks, or else you are grossly understimating the size of Mount Everest. There is no way to "hollow out" Mount Everest, not even with the resources and technology of modern China. To give an illustrating example, it took the Swiss 7 years to dig the 57 km long Gotthard base tunnel, making a puny hollow taking up a vanishingly small part of the volume of the mountains. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 1 '19 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you could wait 30,000 years and do it when you have the technology to pave planets flat for a party $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    May 3 '19 at 13:58

First of all, mountains are HUGE! Even a conservative estimate puts Mount Everest at a volume of 2.1 trillion cubic feet. That could fit all the buildings in Manhattan about 300-400 times over. This is way bigger than people can realistically fathom in terms of architecture; so, don't expect this palace to significantly hollow out the mountain.

Instead look at The Cheyenne Mountain Complex. It is a military base built into a mountain designed to survive nuclear attacks making it one of the safest places in the world to be. It's also big enough to house up to 2000 personnel in addition to all the military equipment there making it pretty big. Even at that size it's just a little hollow in mountain scale, but still much bigger than all but the most outlandish of palaces.

As for Everest being tectonically active, such a structure may crack and change over the course of years meaning it would need regular maintenance, but nothing would be moving fast enough to cause catastrophic damage all at once or significantly endanger the people within that deep underground. The key detail here would be not to construct it along a cleave zone where the two parts of the palace would be moving in different directions.

In terms of it being feasible? To attempt that scale, I'd say it's not doable with modern resources and technology since China's economy would be bankrupted long before integrity or altitude even becomes an issue. However, if you scale it down to actual palace size then you'd basically be giving the emperor the most awesome nuclear bunker in the world, making it feasible but not practical since Everest is in such a remote area.

Beijing, however, is bordered by a mountain range that is much more strategically located. The larger mountains could still contain a massive nuclear bomb shelter palace without being Everest sized, or the smaller ones might actually be to human engineering scale if he wants to hollow out a whole mountain for his palace.

  • $\begingroup$ also keep in mind if you did hollow out the mountain the isostatic rebound would reek havoc on the structure over the long run. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 3 '19 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ Also, Mt Everest is in the middle of a mountain range, so doesn't exactly make for an impressive palace either. You want a "lonely" mountain, so that you can point at it and say "that over there? That's my palace". Unfortunately these are typically actually volcanos, such as Mt Fuji or Mt Kilimanjaro. On the plus side, lava-tubes and the like mean you would have natural "caverns" that you just need to enlarge and join up $\endgroup$ May 9 '19 at 12:48

Put simply, no.

Put less simply, perhaps (if you're willing to economise a little).

To be more specific; a lot has been made in the past about various early cultures all building pyramidal monumental structures, especially ziggurats - Egypt, Sumeria, Mesopotamia, Babylon, just to name a few. These were not all built to similar designs because of ancient alien influence...

Alright, I'll admit I don't know that for sure...

but because the design provides stability when building with the materials available to those societies at the time. Put simply, the angle of incline meant you could build as high as possible without the structure collapsing. It wasn't until we developed engineering concepts like arches that we see other monumental structures and grand buildings like triumphal arches and even the Colosseum.

The thing is, arches are designed to distribute weight from a large section of 'roof' to a small section of pillared support. This works to keep up most buildings, sure. But mountains, more specifically Everest, weigh a lot more than a stone building. Even if arches could support the weight, you'd need so many of them that your grand hall and court for your emperor would have far too many readily available hiding spots in it for your guardsmen's liking simply because of the plentitude of arches needed to support the rest of the mountain.

Add to that, as you pointed out in your question, the mountain is subject to tectonic activity and has basically been created by the collision of two major tectonic plates. In short, that means that the mountain is moving (albeit ever so slowly) and actually growing over time.

This becomes a problem for your hollowing activities, because the focal points on your cavern roofs for the support columns and arches are actually going to shift a little over time, meaning that your existing columns are likely to shift and potentially break or tip over at some point in the future, leaving your now hollow mountain less stable, potentially accelerating the process.

Structurally, if your emperor wanted to do this today, he probably could but it would cost a lot. You'd need pillars built or braced in a manner that allows movement, and you'd also need to know the general direction of the tectonic forces within the mountain in order to design the hollowed out chambers to be supported in a direction and manner that provided longevity by addressing the direction of change within the chamber once it is hollowed out.

In short, the hollowing out of Everest wouldn't increase tectonic activity, but it would destabilise the mountain itself, which from an inhabitant's perspective would have very similar effects to an acceleration of tectonic activity.

Of course, this all assumes that you're hollowing out a significant percentage of the mountain. Based on one estimate I found on the internet, the volume of Everest is around 1.4 trillion M3, which is a lot. To put that in perspective, if the total floor area of the Empire State Building is estimated at 210k m2 and we presume a very generous 5m ceiling, we can safely round this down a little to 1 million m3, which is less than 0.0001% of the mountain. That could be done relatively safely, especially if you modularise your caverns and distribute them through the mountain relatively evenly and you still have a palace larger than the Empire State building in terms of floor space, which (let's face it) would be a very grand place to live assuming all you cared about is size.

I'll nail my colours to the mast right now and say that it's probably not wise to do this, anymore than it would be wise to build any house on a fault line. But, if you're really just interested in whether or not it's possible, then the above gives you some context about how it might be done.

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    $\begingroup$ That and it would be cheaper to build a fake Everest palace in a tectonic stable area $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    May 1 '19 at 2:49
  • $\begingroup$ An even better example of an engineered structure would be the Roman Pantheon en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 1 '19 at 17:13

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